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Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Tomato Whisperer

I’ve been picking tomatoes. Huge numbers of them. I think perhaps I was born for that chore. 

My spouse does all the hard work. Preparing the soil, planting and staking, weeding and mulching.  But if he goes out to pick the fruits of his labor this time of year he is inundated by mosquitoes. Even if he wears long pants and long-sleeved shirts, both pretty brutal in this hot weather. He returns covered with mosquito bites and large red welts.

He has planted a variety of herbs and tomatoes, banana and jalapeƱo peppers in our small plot. With regular watering, our garden plants are thriving in this year’s extreme summer heat. And the vegetables and herbs are especially tasty. I’ve read that is common in extreme weather. 

But picking the vegetables, especially in the interior of the garden, can be hazardous. Foraging into the small garden almost requires a machete. Some of the larger plants, rebelling against the stakes and ties, now have spread themselves on top of other plants, apparently playing “king of the garden”. Make no mistake, this time of year our garden is a jungle. Once you are in its midst, you have to fight to get around and get back out. But the difficult journey, as with so many difficult projects, is well worth it.

The peppers and large tomatoes are discoverable once you get in the garden and lift and maneuver thought the foliage. Even the little orange cocktail tomatoes are easy to spot in the seven-foot high, four-foot wide monstrosity plant, amidst the mess of leaves and tiny, green and yellow-ripening tomatoes. The ripe colors just pop visually as I dig into the center of that plant. And then the ripe ones fall into my hand when they are ready.The trick is not eating them all before I get out of the garden.

For some reason, I can climb all through the garden in shorts and sleeveless top and the mosquitoes don’t seem to notice me. Whatever the reason, I’m happy to be able to forage for our vegetables, and particularly to be able to do so without bites. Just call me the tomato-whisperer. Or should that be mosquito-whisperer?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Old Folks at a Concert

Great concert last night. “Old Crow Medicine Show” at the beautiful Louisville, Kentucky Palace.

Young slip of a woman, I guess with her sister, also about 5’ tall and maybe 99 pounds, turned around before the concert to chat with us. She asked if we were going to dance during concert. I said probably not.  

She then said she hoped we wouldn’t be upset if she danced. She said they had been to a Steely Dan concert a long time ago, back when she was in her early twenties. I had been guessing she had not yet entered her twenties, but you know how us old people are. 

She continued with her story. She had danced at Steely Dan and the old couple behind them had gotten upset because she was dancing.

We told her to dance as the spirit moved her. Just don’t call us old people.  

Last night when we got home, my shoulder AND my feet hurt. We too danced all through the concert, as did the entire audience, of mostly young, very energetic folks. Guess we really are old people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Digital perfection

Apparently seeing no longer means believing. I guess it hasn’t for some time. For example, we all understand a photo is just a representation of the digitally-enhanced, much-better-looking version of whatever is in the photo. Not only are the models skinnier than in real life, more perfectly coiffed, and flawlessly corrected of all blemishes, but they also are virtually-enhanced and reshaped to look more gorgeous than possible in real life.  

Not just human models are digitally perfected. Animals have now gotten into digitally-contrived perfection. Sheep are “corrected” to look whiter than real sheep. Wet dogs are digitally corrected to have no stray water drops.
Grass is made greener, skies bluer, and all of life better. You and I no longer need to don our rose-colored glasses to see the rosy glow in all things digital. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not criticizing this digitally-enhanced photo "reality." Actually, I think it makes a lot of sense.

In "reality," brides spend small fortunes, not to mention undergoing pain and suffering for “boot camp”, plastic surgeons, lipo specialists and extreme diets to look perfect in their wedding photos. Some of the latest trends for brides are truly extreme.

There really is no need for brides or anyone else to endure those types of indignities as well as the lengthy and expensive ministrations of make up and hair stylists to look their best in photos. Why go to all that bother when the photographer-enhancer could do all of that at much less cost and effort. 

Food for thought. Luckily, I'm not at the stage of life to need a bridal make over. Right now, I was planning on going to the gym and then brushing my dog. But why should I? Instead, I think I’ll just photoshop the dog and me. And relax while having a drink and a snack. Cheers to all you digital photographers out there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Hummingbirds Are Here

Hummingbirds hover, particularly around red flowers. Just yesterday our neighbor alerted us to be on the look-out for hummingbirds. She thought she had spotted one. 

Our neighbor goes to great trouble to attract hummingbirds every summer. She has an old-fashioned English-flower-garden-style yard with a bounty of blossoms of many kinds. Some planted specifically to appeal to this little bird. Her goal, she says, is to get them to arrive earlier than mid-July. But in good years, when they do come, it always is about this time.

We do not make an effort to attract any specific type of birds, humming or otherwise. We have hung a few flowering baskets, some of which have red flowers. Truth be told, we picked the baskets based on the shade and sun conditions in the yard and price. Not for the aesthetic sensibilities of particular bird species. 

We also have a bird bath we keep filled with clean water. For the most part, filling the bird bath every day is as much an excuse to take our dog outside and let him play in the hose as it is to attract birds of any type. Water play in the yard is one of the few things our old dog still thoroughly enjoys, despite his trouble navigating the steps to the yard. 
 Today, while we were eating breakfast we spotted the hummingbird. Hummingbirds are about the size of locusts. I can’t tell male and female hummingbirds apart. But I’m calling our visiting hummingbird “she.”
She flitted and hovered around a hanging red geranium basket, nowhere near the bird bath. Then she buzzed over the large begonia, awash with bright red blossoms. She also popped in and out of some multi-colored petunia baskets. Then she was off.
While I suspect Ms. Hummingbird has a timetable and agenda all her own, no doubt we have profited from our neighbor’s floral devotion to the hummingbird.  I do hope she made a stop in my neighbor’s yard. Maybe next year we also will make sure we have some hanging baskets with red flowers.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Happy Laptop

My laptop is back! My wonderful, 11" Mac Air, formerly with multi-colored vertical lines in the center of the screen, which expanded to cover most of the screen, has been magically restored by the Apple geniuses. Actually, I believe they replaced the monitor portion, screen, or whatever they call it. And now I am typing on it.

No longer do I have to watch TV and mutter, who is that actor and where did I last see him or her. driving my husband crazy with my muttered questions. Once again I can look up the answer to the nagging questions bopping around in my brain, preventing me from following the program we're watching. You can sing along with me: "My laptop is back."

All I have to say is the Apple extended warranty for my Mac Air was totally worth it. The repair/replacement not only was done at no charge to me, no questions asked. But the laptop was back at my local Apple store, ready for pick up in three days. I'd been told it would take about three to five days. Apple both emailed and called me on the third day to let me know it was ready. Sing along: "My laptop is back."

I decided my Mac Air deserved its own upgraded cover as well. While skimming the Amazon web site to see covers for the 11" Mac Air, my mind became boggled by the diversity, range of prices, and praise and criticisms of the various covers. From fine leather, book-like coverings for well over $100 but criticized as awkward because the monitor cover fell off when the laptop was opened to cheesy, leopard-patterned plastic for a few bucks, I had looked at so many covers I no longer could make any decisions. Sing along chorus: "My laptop is back."

Since I was feeling so exuberant I checked out the Mac Air covers in the Apple store. At the time I bought my laptop the only cover the store carried for the 11" Mac Air was a neoprene sleeve that fit so tightly I could not pull or push the laptop in or out. Weak hands I suppose. At that time I was leaving on a long trip, so I shopped around and eventually found a Microsoft carrying case in the right size.  So this time when I went to pick up my newly-repaired Mac Air, I decided the time was right to treat my laptop to its very own, Apple-designed cover. Oh, you know the chorus by now. If not, hum "Little Green Apples" as sung by Roger Miller, Frank Sinatra or Burl Ives. At least I think they all sang it.

Because you see--my Mac Air now is sporting a trendy, transparent, apple-green snap-on cover. And my laptop is back.

No product endorsement intended. I'm just happy to be surfing the Internet and writing again wherever and whenever I please.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Laptops and Guilt

I bet you were expecting last week to read more posts about the Iowa Writers Workshop Festival. Maybe even read a few more dialogues. From the writing class last week.  

Well, I feel guilty about not fulfilling any high hopes you might have had. But I do have a hell of an excuse. Oops, sorry about the language.

No, not writer’s block. I always seem to have words. And, no, the teacher was not a witch, or anything that rhymes with that word. She also did not give us so much homework there was no time to write on my blog. In fact, I loved my class and my teacher. Somehow she opened me to new possibilities in writing at the same time I had loads of fun.

Bottom line is I thoroughly enjoyed my class, my week in Iowa and my sibling bonding time As I may have written already, my brother and I made the pilgrimage to Iowa a second year in a row. 

The reason for my not posting is that somehow I broke my MacAir laptop. It began halfway through a class early in the week. Evil, but colorful, vertical lines on the screen, which grew every time I turned the laptop on and off. Basically, the only electronic maneuver I know. Turn off, boot up. If that doesn’t work I’m done for. 

I spent an evening grieving over my laptop. Then the next morning I was ready to ask forgiveness. I called the Apple help line. When I finally talked to a live person he looked up my account, even though I was not sure of my password. I gave him all the possible passwords I had in my head and my iPhone. One of them must have worked.  

The bad news: no Apple store in Iowa City. The really good news: I still have an extended warranty. I confessed I had no idea what was wrong with my laptop but whatever it was I must have caused it. Mea culpa, mea culp, mea maxima culpa. A little Catholic guilt? 

The Apple specialist said it didn’t matter; this is a hardware issue that cannot be fixed. And he said I didn't need to do any penance. Since I have the extended warranty I will get a new laptop when I go to the Apple store on Monday. He even made me an appointment. I sure hope that is what happens tomorrow.

So, I will let you know if I get a new laptop. And I promise to share a few of my writing projects from Iowa after I get my new laptop. Or is that counting my chickens too soon? In any event, I will let you know what hatches.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Writing for a Living

Iowa City is the place to be if you love good writing.  Here at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival, great writers are revered, though not necessarily overpaid, the way Hollywood and the rest of the world celebrates and overpays movie stars and sports phenoms.  Iowa has its own Walk of Fame immortalizing great Iowa-connected authors in bricks. Their fans tread lightly and in awe.

This year my brother and I again are enrolled for week-long sessions in the hopes of improving our writing skills, even if we are never likely to earn a living through writing. My class is on dialogue, with the catchy title, "You talkin' to me?" I'm already feeling De Niro's accent coursing through my fingers as I type.

As I told our spectacularly-skilled teacher, Kate Aspengren, (and no, I'm not writing that because I hope she will stumble on my blog) I am hoping she will give me the skills to shed the Hallmark Movie feel from my dialogue. Our Professor, a very successful playwright, who actually has her own brick in Iowa City's Literary Walk, should be the one who can show me how to wipe the cheesy from the words I impose on my characters.

So here's the first dialogue I typed in class. Our Prof supplied the first line as inspiration.

“You’re the last person in the world I expected to see.”

“It’s been a long time.”

He pushes past her into the apartment.  She trails behind him.

“How did you find me?”

“You know I was a detective.”

“I know. I just never thought you’d come lookin’ for me.”

“I been lookin’ for you for… well, since our last job.”


“You know I could never forget you.”

“You spent all of the money, didn’t you? And now you think I’ll help you with your next big con. Well forget it. I’ve been straight ever since you made off with the whole take.”

“Me? I didn’t run off with the take. “

Simultaneously, “Willie!”

They move closer.

“You mean you didn’t take the money?”

“I should’a known it was Willie. Oh, baby, come here…”

Friday, July 6, 2012

Coffee Chronicles—Part 1

I’ve spent most of my life trying to overcome an addiction. Yes, that’s right.  If I don’t get my morning “joe” I’m pretty useless. 

I’m not just talking about adult years here. It’s been that way since I was about thirteen years old. When I started to think about the “Big Questions” of life.

I don’t know which was chicken and which was egg. We were talking about morning and breakfast, weren’t we? But back to the coffee. Does that fabled delicious beverage with its wonderful aroma and now, we learn, over 1,000 beneficial compounds, lead to mental focus and contemplation of philosophy questions? Or did I need the jolt of caffeine that coffee provides when I entered the netherworld of adolescence? 

Teenagers’ sleep cycles reportedly rage, just as their hormones do, during those transitional years. In fact, while some experts say teenagers still need 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night, adolescents' body rhythms swerve into sleep cycles more attuned to blood-sucking vampires than the happy teenagers of “Pleasantville.” So, of course they need caffeine to get their sleep-deprived bodies moving before noon. 

I’ve hear it said the Renaissance burst forth fully formed from the Dark Ages upon the introduction of coffee. Geez, that makes so much sense. Prior to coffee and tea, Europeans, without a ready source of safe water, had been drinking alcohol to meet their fluid needs. Can you imagine creating great art and stumbling upon amazing scientific breakthroughs when you hadn’t had your morning coffee?

But enough about history. Let’s talk about the monkey on my back. The problem with any addiction is the initial dose no longer satisfies. So where one cup use to provide that initial reassuring wake up and caffeine rush, after a short while, I’m stumbling around until I’ve had the third of fourth cup of java.

Back when coffee was one of those beverages you were supposed to limit, if you were not one of the blessed teetotalers, I tried to limit my consumption to one or two daily cups. Then with the craving, the creeping numbers of cups climbed higher into the high single, or dare I say, double-digits, to satisfy. Also, periodically, to get the addiction under control again, I would go cold turkey and just wallow in full-on caffeine withdrawal. And I suffered. I won’t even mention the nine months of each pregnancy where I suffered through caffeine withdrawal. I will say natural childbirth was a breeze compared to facing mornings without coffee. There, I didn’t mention that pregnancy thing at all.

So now, all of a sudden, imagine my surprise when the experts come out and claim their research shows coffee drinkers live longer than non-coffeistas, all other things being equal.